Our Guide to Eco Friendly Cloth Diapers

Why You Should Choose Natural, Chlorine Free, Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers hanging to dry. To dispose or not to dispose… that is the question! The debate between cloth diapers vs disposables has been going on for years, but it's Ecolife’s opinion that when you get right down to it, the cloth diapering option is by far the eco friendly choice, especially when combined with greener laundering methods. This article serves as an overview guide to our baby diapering section. 


Cost of disposable diapers

True, disposable diapers are more convenient than cloth diapers, but they come with several serious and disturbing environmental and health concerns:

  • Bleach is often used to whiten diaper materials, creating dioxin which is an extremely toxic byproduct that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, causing reproductive, developmental, and immune system health problems as well as cancer.[1]
  • Pesticides used on agricultural crops like cotton can remain in the fibers of a diaper. TBT, a long-lasting endocrine disruptor used on some crops, was recently detected in disposable nappies, potentially exposing babies to 3.6 times the normal safe daily level.[2]
  • The disposal of diapers for theaverage baby—up to 8,000 disposable diapers before they’re potty trained, results in heaps of waste that survives centuries in landfills before breaking down.[3] According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, diapers are the third largest sector of the solid waste stream (behind newspapers and beverage containers).[4] These diapers contain untreated human waste (millions of tons of the stuff every year) that can leach into water supplies, spreading disease.[5]
  • Disposable diapers can contain super absorbent polymers (SAPs) known as sodium polyacrylate that gel up when wet, but similar substances used in women’s tampons were found to cause toxic shock syndrome, making SAPs a concern.[6]
  • Babies diapered in disposables are also said to have more frequent rashes than those diapered in cloth, likely due to different pH conditions.[7]
  • Disposable diapers use more non-renewable and renewable resources, as well as water and energy to create than reusable diapers.[8]

Additionally, disposable diapers are often much more expensive over the long run than cloth diapers. You’ll likely change your baby’s diaper an average of 5,400 to 8,000 times before they’re potty trained, and at a cost of between $0.25 and $0.35 per diaper, that’s a total of $1,350 to $1,890 (for 5,400). Cloth diapers, on the other hand, will cost between $200 and $300 up front and $1.50 per load of laundry (assuming you launder 10 times/month for a total of approximately 360 washes over three years), bringing their total cost up to between $740 and $840. Click here to learn more about the pros and cons between cloth diapers vs disposables


Types of cloth diapers

In the world of cloth diapers, the choices are definitely not homogenous. There are numerous types and styles of cloth diapers to choose from so that you can find a choice that’s best suited to your personal sense of style, routine, and budget:

  • Prefold and flat cloth diapers require a little folding and are very basic, but they can be used throughout multiple stages of growth and are very economical. One-size cloth diapers are similar in that they require some folding and will extend the diaper life even longer given their size flexibilities.
  • Fitted and all-in-one (AIO) cloth diapers are made to fit your baby snuggly, moving with your baby’s natural contours. They’re often fitted with built-in covers and closures, making them very easy to use.
  • Pocket cloth diapers are also contoured in form but can be used with either resuable or disposable liners resulting in longer wear-times and simpler changes.

Read more about this subject in our "Types of Cloth Diapers" article. 


Greener cloth diapering

Cloth diapering is therefore an excellent alternative for eco parents wanting to save a little green. But there are several things you can do to make using cloth diapers as eco-friendly as possible:

  • Choose sustainable fibers like organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp, and be sure they’re not processed with chlorine bleach.
  • Buy secondhand cloth diapers.
  • Make your own cloth diapers from eco-friendly materials.
  • Use your cloth diapers for more than one child, and then give them away to someone else when you’re done.
  • Launder your cloth diapers using eco-friendly washing methods, read on "Washing Cloth Diapers". 

To learn more about choosing eco friendly cloth diapers read "Basics of Cloth Diapers". 

Cloth diaper covers

But there’s more to a diaper than what goes on inside. Many cloth diapers do not come with built-in covers, so you can consider separate options that are super eco-friendly. You’ll want to look for a cover that’s breathable yet can absorb a lot of liquid, as well as covers that are comfortable and odor-resistant. It’s a good idea, too, to look for options that won’t be too warm or too cool. 

  • Bamboo and wool diapers covers are wonderful because they offer superior odor and moisture control and they’re made from sustainable materials that are renewable and biodegradable. They also allow very good breathability (which isn’t true of plastic options) and will maintain a safe temperature for your baby so they help you avoid baby rashes.
  • Cloth diaper covers made from polyester (fleece included) also offer good breathability and comfort, but they are not as sustainable since they’re made from petroleum products. Polyester is also not as effective at controlling moisture or odor.
  • Generally speaking polyurethane laminate (PUL) is effective but not so healthy or eco-friendly, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) should definitely be avoided given that it can contain phthalates which have been linked to many health and environmental problems, including reproductive system disruption, as well as kidney, lung, and liver problems.[9]

To learn more about eco-cloth diaper covers, check out our article "Diaper Covers". 


Cloth diaper liners

As we mentioned both regular and pocket diapers can make use of cloth diapers liners which allow you to gain greater absorption—great for long trips or overnights. Check out our article "Diaper Liners and Cloth Diaper Liners" to learn more. 

  • Disposable cloth diaper liners can be used once and then either tossed, flushed, or composted, offering really great portability and cleanliness for times when you’re not able to change baby as frequently.
  • Reusable cloth diaper liners are even more eco-friendly in that they can be laundered over and over again without losing life (like your diapers). They’re highly economical and easy to use.


How to wash cloth diapers

The washing of a cloth diaper is perhaps what adds most to the environmental footprint of this baby diapering choice. But there are many things you can to do make your baby diapering laundering routine more eco-friendly and save money in the process. These ideas will make your eco-friendlier cloth diapering choice even greener than it already is:

  • Use baking soda to eliminate odors
  • Use natural laundry detergents
  • Don’t ever use chlorine bleach
  • Wash only full loads of laundry
  • Use cold water in the washing machine
  • Line dry your cloth diapers rather than using the electric dryer

And if you can’t be bothered to care for your own cloth diapers, use a diaper cleaning service that meets all of the green criteria listed above to ensure they employ green laundering practices, too. Check out our diaper laundering article.


Baby elimination communication

You know how when the old becomes new again? That’s what’s happening with the baby elimination communication (EC) trend. This technique, which involves communicating with your baby to know when he/she needs to use the toilet, is gaining wider acceptance as parents realize the benefits. The idea is that the more you “listen” to the cues given by your baby about their need to pee or poo, the more you’ll be able to help them use a toilet or another receptacle rather than a diaper for elimination. Not only does this offer more physical comfort for your baby, it virtually eliminates the need for either disposable or cloth diapers and may speed the potty training process. Find out more in our article regarding elimination communication.



1 Allsopp, M. (1994, September). Achieving Zero Dioxin. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from Greenpeace: http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/azd/azd.html

2 News Note: TBT Found in Disposable Diapers. (2000, June 30). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from PANNA: http://www.panna.org/legacy/gpc/gpc_200008.10.2.20.dv.html

3 10 FAST FACTS ON RECYCLING. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/solidwasterecyclingfacts.htm

4 The Politics of Diapers. (2003, February). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from Mothering: http://www.mothering.com/green-living/politics-diapers

5 Diaper debate: Cloth makes a comeback. (2008, June 15). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2008/05/16/f-consumer-disposablediapers.html

6 Armstrong, L. (1993). Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers : What You Can Do About It. Harpercollins.

7 (Infant Diapers and Incontinence Products: Choices for Families and Communities. (1992). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from University of Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/familydevelopment/DE5960.html

8 Brown, N. T. (2009). Diapers and the Environment. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from NEARTA: http://www.nearta.com/Papers/DiaperEnvironment.pdf

9 Belli, B. (n.d.). The Battle to Ban Toxic Toys. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from Emagazine.com: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?3699&src=

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